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Oak Harbor High School’s culinary arts program students hope to perform well enough at state to earn a spot in national competition

Sara Jackson, left, and Racheal Balasa, members of the Oak Harbor High School culinary arts program, prepare rabbit in an effort to fine-tune their skills before upcoming competitions and fundraisers.   - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Sara Jackson, left, and Racheal Balasa, members of the Oak Harbor High School culinary arts program, prepare rabbit in an effort to fine-tune their skills before upcoming competitions and fundraisers.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

A group of student chefs hope to continue a tasty trend — cooking meals delicious enough to garner national attention.

Culinary arts students at Oak Harbor High School competed in the national ProStart Invitational, which is organized by the National Restaurant Association, for six of the past seven years.

Student chefs are now fine-tuning their latest three-course in preparation for a fundraiser 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 24 in the Oak Harbor High School staff lounge.

The students are cooking seared Ahi salad Niçoise with watercress sauce; rabbit three ways, molé sauce, polenta and poached spiced pears; passion fruit panna cotta, white chocolate mousse, almond tuile and passion fruit fettucini.

The culinary arts program also operates Wildcat Catering. The Sunday evening fundraiser is costing folks $50 per person.

Chef Mary Arthur, instructor for Wildcat Catering, said the students will get proficient with their menu because they will cook it 70 to 80 times during the fundraiser.

The event helps pay for supplies and transportation to the various contests in which the team will compete during the coming weeks.

The state competition is March 1-2 at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood.

During a recent practice session, Scott Fraser, owner of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway and longtime volunteer for the culinary arts team, talked to the five-member team about the importance of working together.

“The whole idea is to work as a team,” Fraser told the students before they started cooking.

The team is comprised of four cooks and one alternate. They are senior Rachael Balasa, who is the team captain, sophomore Sara Jackson, junior Haley Garden, junior Joanna Leete and Cahle William, who is the alternate.

Another group of students are competing in restaurant design, where they designed a concept and a business plan.

Oak Harbor’s culinary arts team is a powerhouse. The students won the state competition last year and took fifth-place at nationals.

In addition to the ProStart competition, the students are also participating in a different set of competitions organized by SkillsUSA.

The competition offered by the vocational organization offers individual competitions in baking, culinary arts and food and beverage service.

Arthur said SkillsUSA competitions are attractive for students who don’t want to be part of a team. The contests require students to cook the same meal within a set amount of time.

The culinary arts program offers exposure into cooking and aspects of the restaurant and catering industry. The culinary arts class, which operates Wildcat Catering, is a year-round class comprised of 23 students. Introductory “Food for Today” classes chase 150 students.

Some of the students use the Oak Harbor High School’s culinary arts as a stepping stone to secondary culinary programs throughout the country.

 

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